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Jandakot Agricultural Area, 1890

As Western Australia stabilised and began to grow under convict labour of the 1870s, forward-thinking commentators started floating the idea of ‘agricultural areas’: large tracts of good farming land set aside by the government, divided into farming blocks, and provided with adequate roads and water. These would attract new settlers to the colony, went the thinking, and would provide the food required for a growing settlement.

This suggestion had been made for at least a decade before the Jandakot Agricultural Area (JAA) was officially declared open on January 1, 1890. Until then, the lands east and south of Bibra Lake, considered mostly a part of the Canning district rather than the Fremantle district, had been largely untouched by European hands.

Plans for the Jandakot Agricultural Area

In July 1888 an announcement in the Government Gazette laid out a plan for a new agricultural area, to be known as Jandakot after the name of a lake in the district (now Forrestdale Lake). The boundaries were enlarged in another Gazette announcement in April 1889, increasing the size of the JAA from 17,000 to 36,000 acres.
Spencer's House, Hammond Road

Boundaries of the Jandakot Agricultural Area

The limitations of the JAA were recorded as: 
all the Crown lands not already reserved or otherwise dealt with, situated between the Canning River and Swan Estuary on the north, the north boundary of Cockburn Sound location No. 16, produced east and west on the south, and the southern road on the east, and the sea coast on the west.  
Cockburn Sound Location 16 was Thomas Peel’s large landholding which took in most of modern Kwinana and Rockingham, and its northern boundary roughly corresponds to the boundary between Cockburn and Kwinana, the line of Wattleup Road. 

The JAA, therefore, was the land within the box created by the Canning River, the South Western Highway, the Kwinana-Cockburn border, and the coast, but in effect it meant east of the Cockburn lake chain, since much land nearer the coast was already spoken for. When the maps were drawn up, there were ‘upwards of 180 blocks’ laid out, along with proposed roads and a townsite at Lake Jandakot.

Eager new settlers

Within a year it was reported that 10,000 acres of the 36,000 total had been taken up by settlers, amongst whom were several well-known names within farming circles: ‘Messrs. Liddelow, W.S. and G. Pearse, Nicholson, Maley, Ross, Tapper, Hammond, Chester, Lewington, Sadler, Dixon, etc’.  

These men were among 63 signatures on a petition in 1891 to get a railway built through the JAA. The district, they claimed, 
is fast becoming the most populous and important Agricultural District near Perth…[but] there are no roads cleared for traffic to bring the produce to market (the tracks at present in use being almost impassable), and a means of transit would materially advance the interests of the whole district, which possesses most fertile soil capable of yielding an enormous quantity of produce all the year round.

Roads and railways

The question of roads and railways became a consuming passion for Jandakot settlers. Though the Agricultural Area project was held up by some as an ideal method of opening up new farming land due to its method of "survey before selection" as this theoretically supplied ‘a road for each block’, in reality the Jandakot settlers were stranded in a sea of unforgiving sandy tracks with no main road connecting them to Fremantle or Perth and hardly any of the proposed local roads even cleared yet.

A railway through the district was entirely necessary if it was to flourish, but the route for the South-Western Railway, completed in 1893, bypassed the Jandakot area entirely.

Jandakot Roads Board

Settlers turned to agitating for better roads, a pressing concern as the tracks provided for them made the journey to Fremantle an arduous, hours-long affair that many could hardly afford the time to take. In December 1891 Jandakot was declared a Roads District, allowing it to form its own Roads Board (precursors to modern city councils) and make decisions in its own best interests.

William Nicholson, a fierce advocate for the district and one of its largest land holders, was elected president, and proceeded to agitate for Government funding to aid the construction of new roads.

‘The kitchen garden of Perth’

In 1893 Nicholson wrote that Jandakot ‘in the natural course of events should by this time have been the kitchen garden of Perth’, but the lack of good roads or connection to railways was ‘fatal’:
Not only have the settlers been disappointed of a railway, but a promise made by the Government two years ago to clear and construct a road from the area to the Canning railway station - which would be an important feeder to the South-Western Railway - has not been realised... the Jandakot Roads District... has not received a sufficient grant with which to make a start [on constructing roads].
Forrest Road, which ran through Hamilton Hill and ended at Bibra Lake, was not cleared and extended through Jandakot until 1901, despite several contracts being drawn up to do so. The main road, Nicholson Road, petered out into a sandy track until the western portions of the Cockburn area were reached.
In 1896 a Jandakot resident of twelve months wrote: ‘without railway construction through the Jandakot area many of the settlers will be compelled to forfeit their holdings for want of railway communication’. It would take three years for a market garden block to yield profits, he said, and until then the settlers could make a living selling firewood as they cleared their blocks, if only they had access to trains.

It would take another decade before the government finally put a railway through Jandakot, by which time it was already too late.

A settler community

Jandakot, despite - or perhaps because of - its struggles to get roads and rails, was a popular topic in the turn-of-the-century press. The newspapers loved Jandakot: it embodied much of the settler spirit they preferred to convey, and they emphasised hard-working farmers producing enormous yields of fruit and vegetable crops, dairy cows, and poultry on the land despite all the apparent drawbacks. 
Jandakot Roads Board, 1903
Indeed, by about 1900 Jandakot was providing 80% of the produce in the Fremantle Markets, and the enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. But the intense struggle and slog of life on the Jandakot gardens was often downplayed, and though the blocks were in demand, they were rarely held for long by the same settler. Turnover was high.

Social life

Despite the obvious lack of resources, Jandakot settlers became a close-knit group. The proposed townsite at Lake Jandakot did not eventuate, and instead the social life of the Jandakot district became focused nearer to Bibra Lake, though settlers who were located further east eventually came to consider themselves residents of East Jandakot later in the 1910s.

The Jandakot Agricultural Hall was built on Forrest Road in 1898, before which settlers had held meetings, school classes, and religious services in the Presbyterian Mission Hall at Bibra Lake, and the Jandakot Hotel was opened in 1902. Apart from those two buildings there was not much to call a ‘townsite’, but yearly agricultural shows held at the hall were also grounds for political action, particularly during the five-year fight to get a railway built through the district.

Chinese gardeners

As with many market gardening communities in the early 20th century, European-based Jandakot was threatened by the advent of Chinese migrants taking leases on Jandakot land and running successful market gardens. The high turnover of white settlers probably allowed more Chinese gardeners to settle in Jandakot and Bibra Lake than in those smaller enclaves at Coogee and Hamilton Hill, whose residents were more static.

Decline and dwindling

Though the railway from Fremantle to Armadale was put through Jandakot in 1905, the district still struggled with bad roads and poor communication with Fremantle, along with many issues of drainage where the swampy wetlands meant growing. The Roads Board never had enough money from rates to serve its community well, and by the late 1910s the district was floundering.

Roads Board infighting

Symbolic of the problems, in 1919 the Road Board went to court in Perth to solve a dispute. It seemed the district had divided itself into two distinct segments, east and west, or Jandakot and Cannington, and they held their meetings at Banjup which was halfway between the two. 

But as there were five elected members from Cannington and only four from Jandakot, the Cannington members felt the meeting should be held in Cannington, and subsequently caused an election to be held to further their cause. The election was contested, and the court had to intervene.

Accusations of mismanagement of funds during 1921, and the Government's favouring of the Peel Estate over Jandakot all took their toll. In 1922 the Board made the papers again when their secretary was found to have absconded with some of their scant funds, stolen to cover his own debts.

Dissolving the Jandakot Roads Board

When, in 1923, the Minister for Works decided to dissolve the Jandakot Roads Board, he must have had these issues at the forefront of his mind. Though the reasons given were the large tracts of uninhabited and inaccessible land causing a lack of revenue and leaving the Board unable to fulfil their duties, the underlying implication was a loss of faith in the Board to properly do their job.

The large district was divided between the Roads Boards of Armadale-Kelmscott, Canning, Gosnells, Fremantle, and Rockingham. The Fremantle Roads Board, precursor to the City of Cockburn, got the modern areas of Banjup and Jandakot out of this deal, and created a new electors ward of Banjup to represent its new residents.

The Agricultural Area itself remained as a legal name for the land parcels, but Jandakot as a community of settlers faded away. Though much of the land in Jandakot and Banjup today is still semi-rural or industrial, market gardening is a tiny portion of today’s eastern Cockburn industry, and the suburbs are ever-encroaching.


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